Stop Barking! I'm on the Phone!
By: Mary Burch, Ph.D., AKC's Canine Good Citizen and S.T.A.R. Puppy Director, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
I can think of at least three friends or relatives whose dogs bark when they are talking on the phone. The conversation usually goes like this…”And then she said…BRUNO!!! STOP BARKING!...anyway, she said she would be coming to the party…BRUNO! QUIT IT!...and she will be bringing... BRUNO!!!!!!” And on and on it goes.
The main reason that dogs bark when we are on the phone is that the behavior is attention maintained. Barking is one way for a dog to say, “Pay attention to me.” Your canine companion can hold you hostage if you are so embarrassed by the noise that as you talk, you scurry around the house with the portable phone trying to find something, anything, that will put on end to the barking so you can have a peaceful conversation.
You find yourself thinking, “Here, have a dog biscuit and be quiet,” as you grimace at the dog and shove his preferred treat toward him. Or, “Come on!” you mouth silently with a scowl on your face and snapping your fingers, indicating that the dog should come to the door NOW to go outside.
And throughout the call, you hope that your caller isn’t hearing all of the ridiculous manipulative shenanigans that your precious pup is pulling right now.
The bad news is if you give in and try to stop the barking with a reward such as a treat or activity the dog enjoys, you may stop the racket briefly, but you’ve just strengthened the behavior and you’re on your way to having a dog who barks every time you talk on the phone.
So what do you do? Here are a few alternatives:
1. Teach the dog an incompatible behavior such as, “Go to your place.” If the dog is in a down stay or in his crate where he is usually quiet, he is less likely to bark.
2. Reward quiet behavior. Be ready with some treats before you start talking on the phone. Periodically give the dog a treat if she is quiet.
3. Consider pairing talking on the phone with an activity that the dog enjoys. If the weather is beautiful, it might be nice to sit on the back porch to have your weekly hour-long phone visit with Aunt Sue. The dog can enjoy the back yard and sunshine. However, the dog should not be calling the shots and forcing you to go outside once the call has started.
4. Set up extinction training sessions. For a behavior such as barking, extinction (ignoring the behavior) is an appropriate way to handle the problem. But it is hard to ignore a barking dog when you are trying to have a phone conversation. Consider staging a phone call to train your dog. You can call yourself from a second phone to make the phone ring. The dog doesn’t know no one is talking on the other end. Then have a conversation with yourself, using the same tones and demeanor you use when you talk on the phone. Observe to see how early in the chain that your dog starts to bark. Is the ringing phone the stimulus that causes the problem? Does the barking start a few minutes into the conversation? Ignore the dog until he is quiet and then reward him with a treat.
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